Stories indexed with the term ‘public process’

Column: Good Ideas, Flawed Process at AAPS

Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen good news and bad news coming out of the Ann Arbor Public Schools.

Ruth Kraut, Ann Arbor Public Schools, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ruth Kraut

Good news has come in the form of a new, enthusiastic, positive-energy, forward-looking superintendent in Dr. Jeanice Kerr Swift. Her “Listen and Learn” tour was thorough and well-received by the community, followed by some quickly-implemented changes based on feedback from parents, teachers and staff.

Swift also brought forward some longer-term initiatives that required approval from the AAPS board. Those include plans to address underutilized buildings, a new K-8 STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) program, more language programming, and opening up AAPS to students outside the district through the Schools of Choice program. Those ideas are all positive.

The bad news is process-related, tied to actions by the AAPS board. Mistakes of past years are being made again, as the school board fails to follow its own policies when implementing major changes to the schools. Specifically, the board continues to make important decisions after midnight, with scant information about costs or implementation. Some final votes are rushed through at the same meeting when the items are introduced, not allowing time for sufficient public input.

In this column, I’ll look at both the positive actions by the administration as well as the board’s flawed process. And I’ll ask you to weigh in – letting the board and superintendent know what you think on all of these issues. [Full Story]

No Consensus on Residential Zoning Changes

A committee that’s worked for a year and a half to develop recommendations for zoning changes in Ann Arbor’s near-downtown residential neighborhoods has been unable to reach agreement. So it’s now likely that the city’s planning commission will weigh in on the controversial issue. The outcome of changes – if approved by the city council – could affect the density of residential development in the city.

R4C City of Ann Arbor Zoning

The dark red areas are those areas zoned R4C in the city of Ann Arbor. (Image links to Google Map)

At a recent working session, planning commissioners were briefed on a draft report from the R4C/R2A advisory committee, which has been meeting since December 2009. Both kinds of zoning district were established in the 1960s: R4C allows for multiple-family residential dwellings, such as apartment buildings, while R2A zoning limits density to two-family residential structures. The committee was unable to reach consensus on its recommendations, nearly all of which relate to the R4C districts.

At the June 14 planning commission working session, two commissioners who serve on the committee – Jean Carlberg and Tony Derezinski – expressed frustration at the outcome. The draft recommendations don’t provide any guidance about where the city might encourage greater density, Carlberg said.

Derezinski, who is the city council’s representative to the planning commission, added that many committee members worked hard, but were interested in protecting what they’re used to, especially concerning density and parking in their neighborhoods. As it stands, he said, the report won’t be helpful to the city council. Derezinski supported the idea of having the planning commission study the issue and make its own recommendations.

Commissioner Evan Pratt suggested that the first question to ask is whether there should be greater density, and where – the answer to that would guide the recommendations.

In a follow-up phone interview with The Chronicle, Wendy Rampson – the city’s planning manager, who also attended the working session – said there are several possibilities that planning commissioners might pursue. They could discuss the report at one of their regular meetings and make their own recommendations or comments about it. Those recommendations and comments could be made either informally – communicated to the council via Derezinski – or through a formal resolution or memorandum.

Another option would be for the commission’s ordinance revisions committee to tackle it first, developing specific ordinance language that the full commission could then review and possibly recommend to the city council. Or commissioners could ask to hold a joint session with the council, she said, to talk through these issues directly.

Regardless of how the planning commission proceeds, Carlberg will no longer be at the table. The June 14 working session was her last meeting as a commissioner. Her term ends on June 30, and she did not seek reappointment. The former city councilmember served 16 years on the planning commission, overlapping with her 12 years (1994-2006) as a Democrat representing Ward 3 on the council. Eleanore Adenekan was nominated during the council’s June 20 meeting as a replacement for Carlberg – her nomination is expected to be confirmed at the council’s July 5 meeting. [Full Story]

DDA Preps Downtown Ann Arbor Process

At its regular partnerships committee meeting on May 11, 2011, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board began discussing how to implement the city council “parcel-by-parcel” resolution passed on April 4, 2011. That resolution gives the DDA responsibility for leading a process to explore alternative uses for downtown parcels: the Library Lot, old Y Lot, Palio Lot, Kline’s Lot and the Fourth and William parking structure.

Area of focus for DDA-led development process

Light pink areas are all city-owned land. The red outlined area is the DDA tax district. The green rectangle is the smaller area of focus for which the DDA has been given responsibility to lead a process to explore alternative uses of city-owned surface parking lots. The green rectangle is bounded by Ashley, Division, Liberty and William streets. (Links to higher resolution image. Map data is available on the city's website at

The parcels are currently used as surface parking lots – except for the Library Lot, which is the construction site for an underground parking garage that, when completed, will offer around 640 parking spaces. It was previously a 192-space surface parking lot.

The committee meeting included a presentation on the city’s sewer system from Cresson Slotten, a manager with the city of Ann Arbor’s systems planning unit.  The agenda also included a conversation with Doug Kelbaugh, former dean of the University of Michigan’s college of architecture and urban planning, and Kit McCullough, who teaches at the school. The two are interested in helping facilitate the public process stipulated in the city council parcel-by-parcel resolution. Also interested in sharing information he’s gathering from downtown property owners is Peter Allen, a local developer who attended the partnerships meeting.

One major theme that emerged during the committee’s discussion is the idea that a public space can be successful if it is programmed, used and supported by the community, even if its design is lacking.

The parcel-by-parcel resolution was passed at the same meeting that the council voted to terminate the review process for proposals the city had solicited for use of the top of the underground parking structure.

The termination of that RFP review process came just before the council was supposed to consider formally signing a letter of intent to hammer out a development agreement for the finalist project – a hotel/conference center proposed by Valiant Partners. [Chronicle coverage: "Ann Arbor Council Focuses on Downtown"] [Full Story]

Column: Upholding the Open Meetings Act

On Friday, Sept. 17, 2010, The Ann Arbor Chronicle filed suit against the city of Ann Arbor alleging that a violation of the Michigan Open Meetings Act occurred on July 19. The allegations are based in part on remarks made by councilmember Stephen Rapundalo during open session of the Aug. 5 city council meeting – remarks that referred to the July 19 closed session. The subject of both the open and closed session discussions was medical marijuana.

We don’t take this decision lightly, and in this column we lay out the circumstances that led us to file this lawsuit. Our decision was prompted by more than this one clear violation. More broadly, we’re concerned about a culture of closed city government that goes beyond a laxity about conformance with the state’s Open Meetings Act and Freedom of Information Act.

This culture isn’t uniform – many city staff and elected officials are committed to doing the public’s work in public view. However, the prevailing culture is one of closed government – in which city officials assume that they can do their work in a way that’s shielded from public view. It’s a culture we’ve observed in the thousands of hours we’ve spent covering city council and other city commissions and committees over the past two years.

We believe the culture of closed government that exists in the city of Ann Arbor will not change until a lawsuit is filed and won – and that’s why we’ve chosen to litigate.

We’re being represented by East Lansing attorney Jeffrey Hank of Hank Law PLLC, who also believes this is an important case: “Open and transparent government is important for a multitude of reasons. In this case, advocating for open government on behalf of a citizen-based news organization, which is covering the reawakening of our liberty as it relates to marijuana prohibition in one of Michigan’s greatest intellectual cities, is as American as apple pie. This case is the perfect nexus of what our society needs to reinvigorate our democratic spirit.” [Full Story]

Unscripted Deliberations on Library Lot

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (July 6, 2009): The word “public” covered much of the ground of this past Monday’s meeting: public art, public land, public input.

closeup of printout of Anglin's amendment with edits by Briere

Mike Anglin’s (Ward 5) amendment with edits made by Sabra Briere (Ward 1) at the council table.

The council got an annual report from the Public Art Commission highlighted by a reminder that Herbert Dreiseitl will be visiting Ann Arbor on July 20 to introduce plans for the storm water art he’s been commissioned to design for the new municipal center. The designs have not yet been accepted.

The council also heard a report from the Greenbelt Advisory Commission on a slight strategy shift in the use of $10 million of public money so far to protect 1,321 acres of land. The  council also approved a resolution to preserve the First & William parking lot as public land.

The discussion of another parcel of public land, the library lot, led to long deliberations on the wording of a resolution to establish an RFP (request for proposals) process for development of the site – below which an underground parking structure is planned. At issue was the timing of the RFP and the explicit inclusion of a public participation component in the process. The deliberations provided some insight into how councilmembers work together when the outcome of their conversations at the table is not scripted or pre-planned. [Full Story]

A2D2 Zoning in the Home Stretch

Huron Street Sketch looking east.

Sketch looking east of a possible result of the A2D2 zoning as it currently stands. Division Street, running north-south, is in the foreground. Ann Street (on the left) runs east-west, as does Huron Street (right). The currently proposed D1 zoning along Huron Street is to be mitigated by requirements that push buildings towards the street.

City council convened Monday night to hear public commentary on the downtown plan and A2D2 zoning revisions for the downtown area, which were approved by planning commission earlier this month, and which council had already begun contemplating at a working session two weeks ago. Nothing else was on the agenda.

About 30 residents took their 3-minute speaking turns on Monday, which did not preclude their participation at the public hearings when the amendments to the zoning ordinance are heard formally. The zoning ordinance’s first reading is planned for April 6 with a second reading on May 4. The  downtown plan will be heard April 20.

By 8:30 p.m. the Monday meeting had concluded, with many of the speakers and councilmembers mingling afterwards. [Full Story]